What do you feel when you read in the Bible, “Do not be anxious”?
Many people feel, What’s wrong with me? I’m not a good Christian. I’m not supposed to be anxious, but often I am. Everyone feels anxious at times.
Furthermore, in the US 31% of adults will develop an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. That could be Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or a Phobia.
An anxiety disorder undermines your ability to function in your relationships and work. It may have genetic roots. Always, the anxiety is in our bodies and it can be so entrenched in our biology that we need medication to manage it, along with therapy and prayer.
Some Christian leaders teach that it’s a sin to be anxious because Paul says, “Do not be anxious” (Phil. 4:6) and Jesus says, “Do not worry” (Matt. 6:25-34).
But that’s a misinterpretation of Scripture that causes harm to people with mental health challenges and everyone who sometimes feels anxious or worried.
Even Jesus Felt Anxious
In the shadow of the cross, while praying in the garden, he plunged into a “pit of suffocating darkness,” a sinkhole of dreadful agony that felt like it would kill him (Mark 14:32-34 MSG).
Jesus felt anxious because of trauma. He was in a life and death struggle with Satan and in prayer he was anticipating his cross, being brutally tortured, and, worst of all, taking on our sin.
We also feel anxious when affected by trauma, spiritual warfare, abuse, and sin (our sin or the sin of others against us). Other reasons for anxiety include stress overload, conflict in relationships, and health problems.
Some anxiety is because of not setting boundaries, overworking, having unrealistic self-expectations, always wanting more, hurrying, or trying to control people or situations.
Denying emotions like fear, anger, shame, or sadness causes anxiety. We say we’re “stressed out” but actually we’re “stressed in.” Psychologically, anxiety is a secondary emotion because usually it involves previously repressed emotions.
There are many reasons for anxiety and always more than one is operating at a time. All human behavior has multiple causes. So it’s not true to say anxiety is a sin. That’s just one potential source of anxiety.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is an emotion—not a sin. Acute or chronic anxiety is a mental health disorder.
The Bible offers empathy and grace for anxiety — not judgment.
Let’s consider carefully Paul’s words “Do not be anxious” (Phil. 4:6-7). Many people read that this way:
Stuff your worries and fears. Just believe what’s true and pray. You should always look and act calm, happy, and strong. If you feel anxious, insecure, or emotional you’re not a good Christian.”
But actually if you consider the whole counsel of God’s Word, including all of Paul’s teaching and the Psalms, then you see that Paul is saying something like:
When you experience stress in your life and work, when you have conflict in your relationships, when you have pain in your body, when you’re late and stuck in traffic, whenever you feel worried, afraid, frustrated, or insecure, talk to God and a friend about how you feel. Share your emotions openly. Don’t pretend to be strong — be vulnerable. Don’t rely on yourself — ask for the grace you need and receive it by being thankful. Then God’s sweet and powerful peace will nourish you and protect you in the way of Christ.”
Everyday, the spiritual directors and coaches on the staff of Soul Shepherding offer empathy for people who feel stress or anxiety and want help in their spiritual growth, relationships, or work.
We pray you are encouraged to draw near to Jesus as you meditate on the Scripture, “Do not be anxious” to receive his loving grace for your need.